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Calvin Asks: Can an academic be deemed to plagiarise questions from an exam paper previously set by someone else?
If the answer is NO: If ‘plagiarism’ is not the right term to describe copying by academics in exam paper situations, should the fact that exam questions were copied to a significant degree render the exam void?
If the answer is YES: If an academic can be deemed to ‘plagiarise’ an exam paper in a significant and material way, would this render the exam void?
A bit of background:
A 2014/2015 Electronic Engineering exam paper was set by Academic A, and it was the last exam paper they set as a lecturer at University X before they left for another organisation.
The 2017/2018 Electronic Engineering exam was the exam that I sat for, and it was set by Academic B. The syllabus Academic B taught contained many differences to the syllabus taught by Academic A.
Each exam paper was set by one person only.
I and my classmates believe that Q5 of the 2017/2018 exam plagiarised Q4 of the 2014/2015 exam in its entirety. The only difference is section (a), a minor section. Besides this, the solutions are identical.
We also believe that Q2 of the 2017/2018 exam plagiarised Q5 of the 2014/2015 exam, besides section (a), a minor section, and the only difference is that Q2 was reformatted.
I appreciate that community members cannot review the specifics of these exam questions, but I would still appreciate it if you could analyse this situation generally.
So far, despite having access to both papers, University X has completely refused to answer the allegation of copying and/or plagiarism at both the initial informal level (when many of my classmates taking the module complained about the exam paper and the Faculty held a student feedback meeting), and also at the formal complaints level (though the University’s own complaints procedure). This is despite the fact that the University’s own Code of Practice for Assessment and Feedback (2017/18) requires lecturers to “Rewrite/modify the assessment task each time the course is taught.”
The university could technically argue (but has not done so yet) that as it owns the copyright to the exam papers, it cannot (through one of its employees) plagiarise itself. However, though copyright infringement and plagiarism are similar in some aspects, they are distinctly different. While plagiarism is an offence against the author, copyright infringement is an offence against the copyright holder.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any precedent on plagiarism by academics in examination contexts as opposed to students and your comment would help to us fairly apply academic integrity to all.
One might ask why a student would be unhappy about a past year exam question (which had published solutions available online) appearing in a current exam. The answer is that Academic B never referenced past exam papers not set by them, the syllabus was very different, and Q5 was completely unattemptable as it was not covered in the syllabus. Besides, it would be hypocrisy if students were penalised for plagiarism, but not academics setting exams.
If you are able to comment on this and allow me to quote your comment, particularly in a submission to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, I would be extremely grateful as it will go a significant way towards encouraging University X to face this issue, rather than dodging it as they have been doing at present. I and my classmates wish University X had been willing to face the issue internally, rather than claiming academic discretion and that 3 out of 5 questions in the exam were still answerable.
Thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this. I will be very appreciative of any insights.
Uni Student - UK